STEP Awardees from Florida Advocate for Girls & Boys to Assume Leadership Roles in STEM

The corporate composition of a high-tech workforce is constantly changing and evolving, with women
assuming prominent leadership positions that are geared to bolster the role and contributions of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM. “My personal belief is that both men and women should engage in STEM and manufacturing, and that there should be no gender bias in teaching, or learning STEM” says Sailaja Bhaskar, who recently earned a spot as a trail blazer. Bhaskar and her colleague, Winn Stewart recently joined the ranks of a distinguished group of 130 women, who received the Manufacturing Institute’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Production (STEP) Ahead award in March 2015. The Award honors women engaged in the manufacturing industry and have displayed excellence and leadership in their careers on a national level.

Bhaskar and Stewart, employees of Noven Pharmaceuticals, Inc., in Miami were among the
10 honorees from Florida earmarked for the Award. Their Award may be similar, but their journey to the top is defined by their individual experiences. Stewart started her professional odyssey when a serious auto accident required her to rethink/reassess her goals of earning a degree from the University of Illinois. Thereafter she accepted a role in the financial development program at Baxter where she stepped into her first cleanroom which revolutionized her conception and appreciation for manufacturing. Today she is the senior manager for financial planning and analysis at Noven, supporting the manufacturing plant in Miami.

Sailaja Bhaskar’s foray into manufacturing embarked on a much different note. Bhaskar currently serves as
the executive director for Clinical Research at Noven. She has an undergraduate degree in pharmacy from India, and a masters and Ph.D. in pharmacology from Temple University, PA. “Recognizing and honoring women who are leaders in STEM and Production is a great way to pay it forward” says Bhaskar as “it teaches younger generations that leadership skills are genderless.” Pressing on with this conviction, Bhaskar believes both young boys and girls can become the CEO’s and leaders of tomorrow, and that it is very important to inculcate in both sexes, from a very young age, that STEM and manufacturing are gender-free.

Sailaja and Stewart both point to common factors that have enhanced their experiences as ‘woman in manufacturing’. Although Stewart sometimes found herself as the only woman at the boardroom table, or even the youngest in the group, both women have been blessed with good mentors and teams that have supported them, or served as role models who have embraced diversity in the workplace and encouraged them along the way. Both women believe manufacturers have a role in getting more women engaged in STEM and manufacturing. It is important to recognize today’s young people will be tomorrow’s leaders, industry should encourage girls and boys to pursue STEM education starting at the kindergarten level, said Sailaja.  She also advocates for “industry to embrace diversity and appoint more women in C-suite leadership positions.” Stewart on the other hand, believes in building a community of support through mentorships, and getting girls exposed to STEM and manufacturing at a young age so they can identify STEM and manufacturing opportunities.

Since receiving the Awards earlier this year, both women have been acknowledged on a company-wide level.
Stewart and Sailaja were featured in the company newsletter, and also recognized in front of the whole company at a recent town hall meeting. Both have also made individual efforts to promote women in STEM and manufacturing. Sailaja continues to mentor young adults. She believes “all children can excel in these subjects and become tomorrow’s leaders as long as they work hard and are industrious” reinforcing her belief that gender plays no role in STEM. Stewart on the other hand has joined “FabFems” a national database of women in STEM professions who serve as inspiring role models for young women.

Visit http://www.themanufacturinginstitute.org/Initiatives/Women-in-Manufacturing/STEP-Awards.aspx for more information on the Manufacturing Institute's STEP Ahead Awards program for women. For information on STEM based resources targeted at engaging girls in STEM visit www.fl-ate.org and www.madeinflorida.org, or contact Executive Director of FLATE, Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org